It has worldwide impact, stretching from Southern Baptist churches in all fifty states to mission fields across the globe, connecting church members with missionaries in fulfilling the Great Commission.
The Cooperative Program surpassed $200 million in gifts for national causes for the first time in the Southern Baptist Convention's history during the fiscal year that ended September 30, according to an October 3 announcement by Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee.
And in the Gulf Coast states struck by Hurricane Katrina, Southern Baptists showed resiliency and resolve in maintaining support for Cooperative Program causes.
Chapman described the $200-million record as "a remarkable reminder that so many are giving faithfully, Sunday after Sunday, through the Cooperative Program. These multiple-upon-multiple sacrificial contributions make it possible to achieve so much more together in cooperative missions, ministries, and theology than we could ever accomplish without each other.
"Moreover, this level of giving through the CP as a manifestation of Southern Baptist cooperation is an extraordinary testimony at a time when some mainline denominations have experienced reduced contributions resulting in cuts to their national programs," Chapman said. "Yet, so much more needs to be done, and I pray that Southern Baptists around the nation will press even harder to support our unified efforts through the Cooperative Program to reach the lost, minister to the hurting, and provide biblical leadership to our country and the world."
Through their $200 million in gifts, Southern Baptists have supported ten-thousand-plus missionaries carrying the Gospel to remote regions overseas, to America's inner cities, and an array of localities in between.
Cooperative Program gifts opened doors for seminary training for a new generation of missionaries and pastors and other workers called to various facets of fulltime outreach. CP gifts also supported Southern Baptists' witness amid the nation's battle over family values and religious liberty. State Baptist conventions, meanwhile, also utilized Cooperative Program gifts from the churches in carrying out the broad scope of their evangelism and discipleship initiatives.
In reaching the $200-million threshold, SBC President Frank Page stated, "To say that this [milestone] causes a great deal of excitement is a tremendous understatement."
There is much to be gleaned from this juncture in SBC life, said Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina, listing three questions: "What does it mean? What does it teach? What is God saying to us through this?
"First of all, it means that Southern Baptists care about ministry, care about educating young men and women, but most of all care about missions," Page said. "It means that we truly believe that we can do more together than we can do separately."
Second, Page continued, "It teaches us that the Cooperative Program is an object of worth, one of value, which continues to need focus, emphasis, and appreciation."
Third, Page cited Luke 12:48 — Much will be required of everyone who has been given much — in noting, "This level of stewardship on the part of God's people calls us to be serious in how this money is spent. It requires all [SBC] entities to recognize that the hand of God's blessing is great, therefore the responsibility is equally great. We want to maximize this gift from God for maximum efficiency and impact."
Jim Futral, executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, reported that Cooperative Program giving in the state was 10.35 percent ahead of budget at the end of September, despite the immensity of Hurricane Katrina's impact.
"For years now, Mississippi has led the nation in per capita giving to benevolent and charitable causes … [even though] our state also has the lowest per capita income in the nation," Futral observed. "It seems as though we struggle with trying to know how to make money but are blessed with the grace of giving money. If faced with a choice between the two, I would rather be among folks with a gracious heart."
Describing the Cooperative Program as "a channel of hope, strength, and opportunity to continue doing Kingdom work," Futral noted, "It is because of the Cooperative Program that we have been able to respond immediately and continually to the needs of our churches and individuals across the coast, and at the same time continue to support Southern Baptist missions around the world with no reductions at all."
The devastation of Hurricane Katrina followed by Hurricane Rita was "a wakeup call for our state," said John L. Yeats, the Louisiana Baptist Convention's director of communications and SBC recording secretary. "Many of our people saw firsthand how invaluable the Cooperative Program is."
Around the country, numerous state conventions posted healthy increases in Cooperative Program giving. A 9.51 percent increase in West Virginia, for example, has followed various initiatives to broaden awareness of the SBC channel of missions support.
The Cooperative Program became a part of the West Virginia convention's new pastor orientation, and the state Woman's Missionary Union trained new workers in ways to teach cooperative missions support. Staff members have made the Cooperative Program a regular element in their speaking engagements and their correspondence. And the Cooperative Program will be the prime focus of this fall's annual meeting of West Virginia Baptists.
"There is a great spirit moving in our convention at the present time," Executive Director Terry Harper said. "Not only is CP giving up, but baptisms are up as well, and I think they go hand in hand to some extent. When good things are happening, people get excited about it and they want to support it."
John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, which received increased giving from churches through the SBC Cooperative Program by 10.5 percent during the 2005-06 fiscal year, said, "We are grateful unto God the giving of Florida Baptist churches through the Cooperative Program has continued at a record-setting pace through 2006. No doubt Florida Baptists have been blessed of God, and we are grateful for their faithfulness to support the Cooperative Program — the lifeblood of our worldwide missions commitment — which enables us to go into all the world, all the time at the same time."
And, at the place where the Cooperative Program starts — the local church — Eric Redmond, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Temple Hills, Maryland, said of the $200-million record, "I am overjoyed to see that Southern Baptist churches are taking seriously Christ's call to proclaim His name to the ends of the earth."
In 2006, Hillcrest contributed 21 percent of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.
"I am excited to see that men and women will be trained at our schools for His service; I am excited to see that missionaries will be launched near and far to proclaim His name; and I am excited to see that we will continue to have a voice in public policy before our opinion leaders and policy makers.
"I am thankful," Redmond said, "that we are able to partner in this venture in just a small way."
Help your church see the difference they are making through the Cooperative Program. Free resources are available through most state convention offices or for a nominal charge through the national office. To contact the national CP office call 1-800-722-9407 or log on to www.sbc.net/cp.